Lead testing could be required


March 29th, 2011

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Lincoln, NE – Nebraska public school children would have to be checked for lead poisoning before entering kindergarten, under a bill advancing in the Legislature.

Sen. Council is trying, for the second time at the Capitol, to make lead-testing a requirement for kindergarteners (Photo courtesy Nebraska Legislature)

Currently, parents have to show that their children have been immunized against various diseases before they are admitted to school. The bill by Omaha Sen. Brenda Council would add to that requirement. It would require showing that a child has been tested for lead in his or her blood before beginning school, starting next year. Council stressed the problems that lead can cause.

“Elevated blood levels have unequivocally been associated with reduced intelligence, academic failure, behavioral problems, and learning disabilities,” she said. “Indeed, there is a direct correlation between elevated blood lead levels in the developing child and lower IQs.”

No one questioned those potential problems. But some senators questioned whether going through the schools was the right way to address the problem, when brain damage can occur much earlier. And Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus wondered about the trade offs.

“We are in a risk averse society,” he said. “It seems that if there’s a tiny risk of anything, we want to spend resources to fix it. But we are also in a risk of limited resources, which we can’t always spend on what we want in unlimited quantity to get rid of a tiny risk.”

Schumacher asked about narrowing the bill to apply only to the areas of highest risk. But Council resisted that. She said that while Omaha has unique problems with lead because of a former refinery there, the biggest source of lead contamination is paint in old houses, found across the state. Her bill provides exceptions to the testing requirement, including for children whose doctors certify that that they haven’t been exposed to various risk factors such as living in a house built before 1960.

The bill also exempts private and parochial school students. Education Committee Chairman Sen. Greg Adams said that was done because those schools typically want exemptions from state regulations. But Sen. Russ Karpisek of Wilber vowed he would try to take the exemption out at the next stage of debate. The Legislature gave the measure first round approval on a vote of 29-9.

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